Picking a Derby Winner – or Not

By Nick Thomas

Everyone, it seems, has a method for predicting the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

My forecasts for the famous horse race held on the first Saturday each May completely ignore form or pedigree since I prefer to base selections on name and have the losers to prove it.

Take this year, for instance. How could one go past a horse named “Fast and Accurate” in the event held recently on May 6? Turns out 16 other horses could, since my selection came in 17th.

Last year, “Tom’s Ready” seemed like a horse destined for the winner’s circle. Only someone forgot to tell Tom. He obviously wasn’t ready, permitting eleven others to beat him to the post.

For the 2015 race, I went with “Upstart.” Unfortunately, the jockey forgot to start him up. He came in last.

Going back to the 2014 Derby, my choice was influenced by the public scandal at the time involving priests in the Catholic Church. So it seemed a sign to bet on “Vicar’s In Trouble.” The nag also came last.

When the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded in February, 2013, over Russia, I was convinced this was an obvious astronomical indication to get behind “Falling Sky” for that year’s race. Behind was right. He trotted in at number 19 – in a field of 19.

I felt very confident about the 2012 race. That year, the 138th Derby fell on Cinco de Mayo, a clear sign to put a few dollars on “El Padrino” which is Spanish for godfather. But he didn’t exactly lead the mob around the 1.25 mile Churchill Downs track, ambling in a disappointing and unlucky 13th.

For the 2011 event, a rather moving personal experience determined my selection. Sometime prior to the race, I had a colonoscopy and had suffered through the indignant “prep” that clears out the bowels in preparation for the procedure.

So naturally, I selected “Watch Me Go” as the 2011 winner.

Bummer. He crawled in 18th, which, coincidentally, just happened to be the number of bathroom trips I made during that night.

No doubt other punters have probably demonstrated better powers of turf prognostication than me over the years.

Going all the way back to the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, any Greek historian could have picked the winner by selecting “Aristides,” named after an ancient Greece statesman.

And a few years later, English teachers would have received a grade of A+ had they predicted “Macbeth II” who did indeed reach the 1888 post first?

Early Air Force flyboys would have soared to victory predicting “Jet Pilot” in 1947; traffic cops across the nation probably made a bundle on 1948’s “Citation”; while you know workers in dollar department stores would have been right on the money picking “Spend a Buck” in 1985.

Next year, I’ll probably just sit the 2018 Derby out and simply reflect on this year’s winner: “Always Dreaming.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers.